“My Heart Is An Idiot” is a new documentary about love that spans two years and over a hundred cities. The film captures the road-tripping lifestyle of Davy Rothbart (creator of “FOUND Magazine,” “This American Life” contributor, author of “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas”) who looks for love in all the right places, and in all the wrong ways.
The film climbs into the tour van, as Davy tours North America promoting his magazine FOUND, the virally popular and iconic printed collection of discarded notes and photographs. Along the way, Davy seeks advice on his tortured love life from people he meets and talks with, (Zooey Deschanel, Ira Glass, Newt Gingrich, and Davy’s mom), and attempts to follow that advice, with comic and very surprising results.
The first feature-length film project from Portland, Maine-based filmmaker David Meiklejohn, “My Heart is An Idiot” provides a raw and intimate look into the lives of people who are both unique and universal, failing and triumphing in ways that are recognizable to all. It’s a hot mess disguised as a love poem, weaving together multiple stories to illustrate the joys, and dangers, of romantic pursuit.
Vimooz.com had the pleasure of speaking with director David Meiklejohn about this great new project, which he and Rothbart are currently taking on the road to promote in several major North American cities. This week boasts both the New York and Brooklyn premieres. Get your tickets here! “The film is not be missed, capturing the longing of a generation that is always grasping for what it can never quite reach, and in the end, finding that what really makes them happy has really been right there, all along. Sweet, poignant, tenderhearted, hysterically uncomfortable- the film above all achieves a rarely honest portrayal of a man who is torn by his desires, and his quest for the ultimate romantic love.”
It’s always wonderful to be reminded of what essentially makes us tick on such a warm and human level. Although on some level we may realize that love is all there is, it’s refreshing to see that we can all still be profoundly affected and confounded by both love’s pursuit of us, and our often elusive pursuit of it.
How long were you on tour with Davy and his brother?
I started filming in Fall of 2005, for two months, and then also, we took a break between tours, and went back on the road for two months in summer of 2006. I had 150 hours of footage, and four hours of staged footage, and probably about between 40 and 50 archival hours of VHS footage that Davy had of himself, growing up.
How did the concept for this film begin?
When we started making this film, it was going to be a FOUND Magazine tour documentary, first and foremost. It was very much going to be a collaboration between Davy and myself. So, at first, I was just filming the shenanigans of the road, the FOUND performances, and the interesting people we met along the way. But then, throughout the tour, all we were focusing were different romantic things…Either, Davy and I would talk about his romantic life, or the people we would met along the way we were interviewing would talk about love. So, we realized after the first tour that it was going to be about Davy’s romantic life. And the second tour, I really focused on that aspect of the story. I was living in Brooklyn at the time, then moved to Ann Arbor to edit the footage with Davy. At a certain point, we realized that it wouldn’t work to have Davy edit the film, because of his relationship with the entire subject matter. It was really hard for him, and it would have been really hard for anybody, I think, to think objectively about the story. It’s not even just about you, but about some really sensitive history in your life. So, we decided that Davy would step back from the project creatively, and I would take over the entire project, and made all of the creative decisions, keeping him completely in the loop along the way.
I noticed that you both have chosen to downplay Davy’s status as a pretty big underground celebrity and writer…
Yeah…The movie could have been made solely for the FOUND Magazine audience, who already knows who he is. But, you know, then it would not have been that accessible to people outside of that world. Or- we could have made it had a very strong introduction to FOUND Magazine, and explained everything in very great detail, but then it would have been boring to the people who already know who Davy is. There are more people in the world who have no idea who idea who Davy is, or what McSweeny’s (boutique publishing house) is, than, than people who do. It was sort of trying to find a balance between those two types of audiences…Those who are familiar with Davy and FOUND, and those people who aren’t. Davy has a really fascinating career. He’s a really interesting person. He’s a very talented writer, and fascinating person in the world. Everything he does has his own imprint. He’s got like a signature thing. Everything he does is really unique, and it’s really special, for him as an artist. But I just didn’t want it to be like a hagiography. I wanted it to be to be true to who Davy who is, but because I am a friend of Davy’s, I also felt it could easily flip into, “Look at my friend. Isn’t he so awesome, I admire him so much!” -kind of a thing. I wanted it to be truthful for everyone involved, and I wanted to maintain the integrity between their realities, and the reality that I was presenting. And I also wanted it to be entertaining as a story, and as a film. All of the decisions that I made had to be sensitive to both of those things.
Hey, but you also cannot deny the power of name-dropping! I contacted every press outlet before we open the film in a city, and I know they are probably responding because I put Ira Glass and Zoey Deschanel’s names in the email descriptions of the movie. But I don’t feel this cheapens the movie at all. It introduces the movie to people. It gets them hooked. And then, once they see the movie, then, they’ll see it for what it’s worth. If they like the movie, eventually it’s not only because of Ira Glass.
That was very jarring, the emotional scenes when Davy had videotaped himself so much younger, literally crying into the camera about lost love…
It wasn’t really surprising that Davy had a camcorder, lots of families have them around, but what I did kind of curious about it was that the way that he was using it to document things was… it was weirdly strategic. It was a mixture of strategy and impulse. And necessity, too. I think that something I hope the film portrays, is that, there is a lot of conflict in Davy; in the way he tries to pursue romance. And not just in his romantic life, but, also, as a person, he has these kind of conflicting things that in another person, would just seem impossible to put together, but with Davy, it just makes him the person that he is. One thing is when you look at that old VHS footage, you see how he’s both acting and sincere at the same time.
You have two major female players who bravely allow their participation in your film. Can you tell us a little something those pretty intense collaborations?
The collaboration with Sarah was really fun. When I moved to Ann Arbor, I started editing the film, watching the 150 hours of footage two or three times. I watched the footage of Sarah, and there was really no drama without Sarah in the movie. It wasn’t a balanced film without her, and I wanted to get her involved in the film in a real way, using her story kind of way. We took a walk in the park, and asked her is she wanted to be involved, and she said she would. She trusted my sensibility, and agreed to do it. And we did a really long interview. That became the source material for her voice-over. From that, I pieced it together into the film, and then, Sarah and I both created the visuals that came along with it. Some of the visuals are re-creations, reenactments of scenes that she is talking about in the movie, and then some of them are more visually representative of some emotional state. They’re more lyrical and poetic. They’re lyrical but not literal, interpretations of what she was feeling, or the mood of what she was talking about. And we came up with all of those together. It showed her bravery. It’s really intense stuff to have the courage to face these kind of sad moments in your past, to create something artistic out of it. I think it shows a lot of courage.
Her participation was pretty unique, as well. She didn’t know what the documentary was while we were filming it, that it was largely about her at the time. It wasn’t until after I started editing it, that Alex was really filled in about it. It almost has to have been way. Her attitude in the film is that she knows, but does not care. She knows that something up, and she doesn’t know, and she’s okay with not knowing. Once the filming was over, I had a lot of really long, straightforward conversations with her about the film. When she saw a full draft, she watched it, and she loved it. She was totally fine with the way she was portrayed. She came out to the world-premiere, and stood onstage with Davy and I, and took questions.
What is your overall background in film, David?
I studied poetry in college. Useful. A lot of job opportunities opened up after that, at coffee shops! I moved around a lot, I lived in Austin, I lived in New York, I lived in Florida, and started writing fiction after I graduated. I started getting into video a couple of years after I graduated. The story is kind of funny, my younger brother, was late for rent one month, and needed to borrow money from me. I gave him money for rent, and then he gave me his video camera as collateral. And that was when I started filming. I never had my own camera until that time. I was frustrated with writing at the time, because I felt it’s a very isolating experience, it’s a very solitary art. Until you’re finished, and then you get to share it with a lot of people. But the creative aspect of was pretty solitary. So I wanted to do something that was more collaborative, in the creative aspect. So I just filming weird music videos with my friends, and just filming strange things around my life, and making videos out of them. My friend gave me some editing software, and I just started hacking away. That was the start of my filmmaking life. I sort of just happened into it, making a ton of mistakes. It’s sort of the way I prefer to learn. I have no formal training, as a filmmaker. I just learned by making a lot of short music videos and documentaries with my friends. This is my first real, full-length project. It’s sort of my baby. This is like a like birth for me.
What about your next project? Any plans?
I live in Portland, Maine. It’s a really very exciting to be in Portland, Maine, and working in film right now. Everyone here has been so supportive, and so excited about the film. The way I make my next film will be completely different from the way I made “My Heart Is An Idiot.” I feel like I know how much more important it is to really plan. The more planning you do in the beginning, the less work you have to do in the end. That’s really intuitive and apparent in narrative films. They’re things you do in the beginning that will determine the end. I have a loose trilogy of films in my head, thematically related in the style of the Krzysztof Kieślowski films “Red, White, and Blue.” I’m switching from documentary to narrative film. It’s basically a love story, the first one, about two people living in Portland. The three films will have characters who don’t really know each other, but whose lives intersect in a very major way.
Tell us about the future you see for “My Heart Is An Idiot”…
We have just set up a tour of our own, because, through FOUND Magazine, we have access to some great venues around the country, and media access, who are all interested in really supporting the film. It’s really unique to have this opportunity as a first-time filmmaker. We’re basically creating our own festival circuit. I’m definitely open for it to reach beyond the kind of DIY, punk-rock audience that we have built-in already. I did submit it to the Oprah Winfrey Network! You know, she has a documentary series now…You just never know. It may be a good fit!